To see ourselves as others see us, Part One

Posted by Sheila Connolly

"O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us. " Robert Burns (1759 - 1796), To a Louse

I had my picture taken professionally last week. This is the first time I've had a picture of me alone taken by someone other than a well-meaning friend or relative since my senior year in college (yes, they had invented cameras by then). Well, there was one family portrait (what? Only one? My sister's son had a baby last October, and I think they're signed up for family portraits every three months until the kid goes to college). I debated briefly about trying to cut my head out of it and use that, but it wouldn't work.

Why did I do this? Because I've got two books coming out next year, and everyone keeps telling me I need a website and a blog and a promotional package and so on. Okay, I have a website. In fact, I have two websites, one for each name I'm writing under. And dear friends and writing buddies have looked at the pictures of me on those sites (snapshots by relatives, of course) and said, "um, well, you look friendly." One ruthless person actually stepped up and said, "you need a professional photograph." I listened.

Having made the momentous decision to go through this procedure, I was faced with two questions. The first was, how to choose a photographer? Now, the photographer my nephew chose does spectacular work, and I'd love to use her. Unfortunately she lives over a thousand miles away. Her prices are quite reasonable–until you figure in round-trip airfare. Plus she wants to take four days getting to know you, study you, and figure out how best to shoot you, so it wouldn't be a quick and easy trip. With regret, I gave up that idea.

So I looked for someone closer. Lo and behold, that very week my local paper printed a tiny announcement about a photographer in my own town who had just won a prize in an international photo contest. Kismet, right? I checked out her website and liked what I saw. Her prices were reasonable. We talked, and e-mailed, and then we set up a photo shoot.

Which led me to question number two. What the heck did I want from a portrait? Now, I don't entertain any illusions about my looks (I'm middle-aged and carrying a few more pounds than I'd like), and I know that I photograph badly, if many years of casual snapshots are any indication. I come out looking pasty, squinty, greasy–I could go on, but you get the drift. But I figured a professional would know how to overcome those pesky problems, and maybe could even camouflage the incipient wattle, or double chin, or jowls, or whatever they're called these days.

But what persona did I want to convey? This is supposed to be my official "author photo," soon to be plastered on books and posters and newspapers and blogs everywhere (one can dream). Who did I want the world to see? Who was "me"?

So I started doing research. First I checked out all the cover shots in books by authors I admire. Hmmm...lots of black clothes and intense expressions. Then I looked at a few industry publications. More grim expressions. What, authors aren't allowed to smile? We're writers, therefore we must be brooding? If we look friendly and approachable, no one will take us or our work seriously?

Undaunted, I decided to select out the portions of those pictures I liked best and assemble them. This was the result:

Final_version_3Okay, I'm lousy at PhotoShopping. But this is what I thought was the ideal author photo: a scenic castle in the background, someone else's body (thank you, Nora Roberts–love the leather jacket!), my "friendly" head, and my cat.

So now I had defined my ideal, and all I had to do was find the right components. I was stuck with my body and my head, and the cat had other plans, and there's nothing vaguely resembling a castle in my neighborhood. And I don't even own a leather jacket. But I am persistent...

And for the results, dear reader, you're going to have to tune in next week.

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